New Ideas are Essential to Ward off Global Water Shortage Threat

By Katharine Teague, Head of Advocacy at AB Sugar,

Katharine Teague, Head of Advocacy at AB Sugar, explains why one of the world’s leading sugar businesses has created The Innovate Irrigation Challenge  in partnership with WaterAid and the Centre for Industrial Sustainability at the University of Cambridge.

Agriculture is a water intensive sector, accounting for 69% of the world’s water abstraction according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. As climate change drives global temperatures higher, the pressure on our water resources will grow. Given there are already over 800 million people who don’t have clean water close to home, the potential for further pressures should be of serious concern for anyone interested in fighting poverty.

As one of the world’s largest sugar producers, at AB Sugar we have a sense of responsibility to continuously improve the socio-economic and environmental impacts of our operations; it is always at the forefront of our minds. As such, that is why in April 2018 we launched our 2030 commitments to reduce our end-to-end supply chain water by 30% by 2030. These commitments build upon what we have achieved so far and how we’ve responded to emerging demands to reduce our environmental footprint. They are bold in their approach, far-reaching and challenging and need to be for a business such as ours to strive to be better than we were yesterday.

So why did we need to launch this Challenge?

Water matters to us as it is one of the most important resources in the making of sugar, whether at the factory or in the field. With operations in rural locations, some of which are in developing countries in South Africa, we are continually seeking to invest in irrigation, new technologies and practice approaches, together with our growers. No matter what crop you grow, you need water – sugar cane and sugar beet are no different.

In the past five years we have invested over £25 million in irrigation in Illovo Sugar Africa alone to mitigate water losses and improve efficiencies. This investment has been used to introduce drip irrigation in Malawi and Eswatini, make further infrastructure improvements to dams in Malawi and upgrade pumping stations in Zambia.

But there are still plenty of opportunities for us to do more and to think innovatively in finding solutions to reduce our impact across our operations. And that means accepting that we don’t have all the answers and will benefit by looking outside our organisation for good ideas – drawing on the insights of global policy experts, academics, entrepreneurs, conservationists and anyone out there who might have an exciting idea.

This is the thinking that has led AB Sugar to create The Innovate Irrigation Challenge. We’ve partnered with WaterAid and the Centre for Industrial Sustainability at the University of Cambridge to create a challenge that will bring together people from across the globe to share their ideas on how to solve the challenge of water loss from irrigation.

Registration for the Challenge will open on 28 May, with ideas being submitted on-line during a 48-hour period the 19 and 20 June. Entries will be reviewed by our expert panel of judges – composed of academics, policy experts, sustainability futurists and sugar business specialists – who will select the best idea for reducing water loss in irrigation, with the winning idea receiving a £10,000 prize.

But The Innovate Irrigation Challenge won’t end there. If the winning idea is proved feasible, there is the opportunity to see the idea rolled out across one of more of our operations on the ground.

Responsible business isn’t finding more sustainable ideas and keeping them for yourself. A key part of The Innovate Irrigation Challenge is that if we find an idea that is successful and can go beyond sugar, we’ll share it widely so that agriculture and communities across the world can benefit. We believe this is a model that has the potential to provide genuine scalable solutions to a global problem.

Don’t miss your chance to make a difference

We want as many people as possible to know about the Challenge and have an opportunity to enter.  If you have an idea or know people who may be interested, why not:

Take a look at the Challenge in more detail at   
Join your fellow innovators at our Facebook Group ‘Innovate Irrigation Challenge

Share information on social media using #InnovateIrrigation

Good luck!

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